Seven crippling behaviours that keep children from growing into leaders

| November 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Kathy Caprino

I caught up with leadership expert Dr Tim Elmore to learn more about how we are failing our children today – coddling and crippling them – and keeping them from becoming the leaders they are destined to be.

Elmore is a bestselling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults and the Habitudes® series.1 He is founder and president of Growing Leaders,2 an organisation dedicated to mentoring today’s young people to become the leaders of tomorrow. Tim had this to share about the seven damaging parenting behaviours that keep children from becoming the leaders – of their own lives and of the world’s enterprises:

1. We don’t let our children experience risk: We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. The ‘safety first’ preoccupation enforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to protect them. It’s our job after all, but we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking behaviour and it’s had an adverse effect. Psychologists in Europe3 have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee, they frequently have phobias as adults. Kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. We rescue too quickly: Today’s generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did 30 years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. When we rescue too quickly and overindulge our children with ‘assistance’, we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short term and it sorely misses the point of leadership – to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail or fall short, an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct.” In reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and therefore it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.

3. We rave too easily: The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s.4 Attend a little league baseball game and you’ll see that everyone is a winner. This ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality might make our kids feel special, but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Kids eventually observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behaviour, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.

4. We let guilt get in the way of leading well: Your child does not have to love you every minute. Your kids will get over the disappointment, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So tell them “no” or “not now”, and let them fight for what they really value and need. We tend to give them what they want when rewarding our children, especially with multiple kids. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds. Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the mall. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.

5. We don’t share our past mistakes: Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own. We as adults must let them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them navigate these waters. Share with them the relevant mistakes you made when you were their age in a way that helps them learn to make good choices. (Avoid negative ‘lessons learned’ having to do with smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) Also, kids must prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

6. We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity: Intelligence is often used as a measurement of a child’s maturity, and as a result parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Some young professional athletes and Hollywood starlets, for example, possess unimaginable talent, but still get caught in a public scandal.5 Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. There is no magic ‘age of responsibility’ or a proven guide as to when a child should be given specific freedoms, but a good rule of thumb is to observe other children the same age as yours. If you notice that they are doing more themselves than your child does, you may be delaying your child’s independence.

7. We don’t practise what we preach: As parents [and teachers], it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live to help them lead a life of character and become dependable and accountable for their words and actions. As the leaders in our homes and classrooms, we can start by only speaking honest words – white lies will surface and slowly erode character. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully by volunteering for a service project or with a community group. Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will take note and do the same.

8. Why do parents [and teachers acting in loco parentis] engage in these behaviours (what are they afraid of if they don’t)? Do these behaviours come from fear or from a poor understanding of what strong childrearing (with good boundaries) is? Elmore shares: “I think both fear and lack of understanding play a role here, but it leads with the fact that each generation of parents is usually compensating for something the previous generation did. The primary adults in kids’ lives today have focused on now rather than later. It’s about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it’s a reaction. Many parents today had Moms and Dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and getting ready for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results.”

9. How can we move away from these negative behaviours? Elmore says: “It’s important for parents [and teachers] to become exceedingly self-aware of their words and actions when interacting with their children, or with others when their children are nearby. Care enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. Coach them, more than coddle.”

References:
1. See: www.growingleaders.com.
2. Ibid.
3. See, for example: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13502930701321733#.UyCoFPmSxx0
4. See, for example: Taylor, J.M. (2010) “Popular culture: America’s selfesteem problem.” Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thepower-prime/201006/popular-culture-americas-self-esteem-problem.
5. See, for example: Grossberg, J. (2012) “Lindsay Lohan: a timeline of all her arrests (and boy, there are a lot of ’em).” Available at: http://www.eonline.com/news/367020/lindsay-lohan-a-timeline-of-all-herarrests-and-boy-there-are-a-lot-of-em.

Category: Summer 2014

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